"Few things are brought to a successful issue
by impetuous desire, but most by calm and prudent forethought."
Imagine this Golden Retriever has just been jumped all over by a pack of wild, sandy children, tugging at her ears and pulling at her tail. She wants to nip at them, to treat them as she would annoying little sand gnats, but she's been trained not to. Not only has she been trained, she has a naturally calm and family-friendly nature. I can't speak for all Golden Retrievers, of course, but, for the most part the ones I have encountered are calm, cool, and collected. What I want to know is... how can I be more like the pup in that picture? How can I can keep it together when people are seriously getting on my nerves?
A few days ago, one of my most loyal commenters, Ia, left this suggestion in her comment: "Maybe you have some tips on keeping your cool when people are pushing your buttons." I though this was a GREAT idea, but since the "breaking the spell of someday" post was already underway, I had to put the topic off until today. Those of you who know me are probably reading this and saying to yourselves, "Dani? Write a post about being calm?" I guarantee that no matter who you ask or when you ask, no one that I know would label me as a "calm" person. Anxious, high-strung, high-maintenance, maybe...but calm? That's probably not going to the be the first adjective to come to mind for anyone who knows me well. In fact, now that I think about it, I recall that a close friend of mine once referred to me as a Chihuahua, which is pretty much as far from a calm Golden Retriever as you can get!
So, I guess, what I'm saying is...I don't know if I'm the best person to be giving advice on staying calm. However, I do think I give pretty good advice (even if I don't always follow it) so I'm going to give it my best shot. The one time I find myself most un-calm is when I'm faced with an argument. I don't like conflicts and I don't handle them very well. I love to use the following tactics: yelling, swearing, implementing the silent treatment, and resorting to low blows. Yes, I'm quite the mature young lady. As you can imagine, these tactics have not worked well for me. In fact, they've been the downfall of quite a few relationships. I don't know about you, but I want to be able to handle arguments and conflicts in a calm, mature fashion. So how do I plan to do this? Of course, it comes down to some simple steps that, if used, will guarantee a much better outcome than any silent treatment or screaming match ever could.
How To Find Your Calm (When You Feel Like Punching Someone)
Step 1: Take a deep breath.
Whatever you do, take a deep, deep breath before you react. Not only will this help you to physically calm down, but it will also give you a moment to collect yourself and your thoughts. Deep breaths relax you and the more relaxed you are, the more clearly you will be able to think. And, not surprisingly, the more clearly you can think, the more clearly you can communicate with others. While I don't normally do this, I do think it's a great idea to take a pause before speaking -- especially when in an argument. When I don't think about what I'm going to say, you never know what will tumble out of my mouth! Taking a deep breath is a way to calm myself AND force me to pause and think. One thing, two benefits. What could be better than that?
Step 2: Take a step back.
Take a step back and look at the situation from the other person's perspective. How might you feel if you were in his or her shoes? Consider this before opening your mouth to lash out and explode with all of the self-focused mumbo jumbo that is likely to be at the forefront of your mind. This isn't always easy. Typically in the heat of the moment we can only think about what we want, how wronged we were. However, it really does help to stop and think, just for a moment, about how the other person might be feeling. There are two sides to every story. In many cases, one person is flat out wrong, but, a lot of the time, both people have valid points to make. Listen to what the other person is saying. Open not only your ears but your mind as well and you'll find that things will go a lot more smoothly.
Step 3: Take a look at yourself.
Literally look at yourself. What is your body language saying. Body language is HUGE in the world of arguments. You can put someone in a defensive mode simply by standing a certain way. If you have your fists clenched, your body language is saying, "FIGHT!" Is that the message you want to be sending? Okay, it might be, but it's not the message you should be sending if you want the conversation to continue in a calm fashion. Try to use neutral or open body language (arms at your sides, neutral facial expression, etc.). In addition, make an effort to look the other person in the eye. Avoiding conflict is something I love to do, but it never gets you anywhere. I can tell you first hand that when someone has to gasp in frustration, "You're not even looking at me!" the conversation is not going well. No matter how angry or upset you are, the other person deserves your full attention. Stay in the moment. Be present, even when it's painful.
Step 4: Take it down a notch.
Once you've reviewed Steps 1-3, remind yourself to keep your voice down. Yelling never helps any situation. It doesn't make your point better than someone else's. It doesn't make your argument more valid. All yelling does is prove that you can speak loudly. Good for you. This is not a contest. This is an argument that needs to be resolved and no amount of voice volume is going to make it resolve itself any faster. And don't think that because the other person is yelling that you have to start yelling too. Two yelling people does NOT equal a resolved argument. Have you ever thought back on a situation and thought to yourself, "Wow, I'm SO glad I yelled at that person. I feel so much better now." Personally, that's never happened to me. No matter how much someone has deserved to be yelled at, I never, ever feel better when I do it. So, from now on, I'm going to try my best not to yell.
Step 5: Take a positive pill.
I bet you all knew this was coming. Look for the positive! Yes, once again, I've said it...but, by now, I bet you're starting to see how looking at things from a positive perspective really does help in almost every situation. In the throes of an argument, it's not always easy to look at the good side of things. We are so focused on winning, on being right, that we're willing to remember (and say) things we might not otherwise. The positive is in everything -- no matter how grim the situation -- but it's up to YOU to find it. If you have to walk away for awhile to re-evaluate, do that. If you need to take a pause, close your eyes, and remember the good, do that. Whatever you need to do to see the positive, do it. Sometimes, I'll admit, there isn't much good in a situation, but, don't forget, no matter what is happening, you are learning and growing from the experience.
Apparently, being calm is contagious. That means that if you follow these steps, the other person in the situation will be more likely to behave in a calm manner if YOU behave in a calm manner. See what I'm gettin' at here? You can start the chain of calm. It won't be easy when you're feeling angry or upset, but I bet you any amount of money that, after it's all said and done, you'll be happy that you chose to find your calm before you lost your cool.
How do YOU find your calm?
Do you have any tips for staying cool when things get heated?